How different is the Afghan culture from Pakistan


Jochen Hippler

To person

Dr. sc. pol., born 1955; Private lecturer at the Institute for Development and Peace (INEF), University of Duisburg-Essen, Geibelstrasse 41, 47057 Duisburg. [email protected]

The Pashtun-populated northwestern province of Pakistan has developed into a bloody focus of conflict. The families and tribes there have been in close contact with their relatives in Afghanistan, across today's border, for centuries. A border that was drawn by Great Britain in colonial times ("Durand Line") and that artificially separates the Pashtun settlement areas.
In the Chota Lahore refugee camp in northwest Pakistan, displaced persons who fled the fighting between the Pakistani military and Taliban fighters in the Swat Valley are waiting for food to be distributed. (& copy AP)


The Afghanistan war continues to attract public attention, so that the strategically far more important Pakistan is often neglected. The country has 170 million inhabitants, nuclear weapons, is itself unstable and a scene of political violence. Last year over 12,000 people were killed in political or military violence there. [1] Nevertheless, it is either ignored or viewed from the tactical point of view of how Pakistan can be instrumentalized as a helper in the Afghanistan war. It is only since Barack Obama took office as US President that this has begun to change in part, albeit occasionally in an unhelpful form. Indeed, it is important to realistically assess the connection between the violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan if one is to reduce the level of violence on both sides of the border.

It should not be overlooked that the violence in Pakistan has now reached war level, but that it does not affect the entire country, but rather reveals certain regional focuses. In addition, the causes and dynamics of violence vary greatly depending on the region. In Pakistan today there is not one violent conflict, but at least three, some of which are intertwined with one another, but some also have independent dynamics. Since this has already been described in more detail elsewhere, [2] a short list is sufficient here: (1) In Balochistan, due to a long-term disadvantage of the province, an uprising with an ethno-nationalist, anti-colonial tinge broke out Aims at equality or autonomy; (2) Since the mid-1980s, starting from Central Punjab, a violent, often terrorist, violent conflict between Sunni and Shiite extremist groups has developed, which has since been repeated again and again in other provinces or in the Northern areas flares up. These two sources of violence - as well as the now subsided ethnic civil war in the metropolis of Karachi - are in principle independent of the Afghanistan war, even if there are potential connecting points in all cases. This applies to Balochistan due to the strong Pashtun settlement along the Afghan border and in its capital Quetta; and it applies to the denominational conflict due to the cooperation between Sunni extremists and the Pashtun insurgents in the northwestern province of Pakistan, who are also Sunni-influenced. This brings the focus of violence in the north-western province, which is strongly linked to the war in Afghanistan.

Civil war in the tribal areas of the Northwest Province

Map of Pakistan (& copy Chambers Cartography)
The north-western province, which is mainly populated by Pashtuns and borders Afghanistan, has become Pakistan's bloodiest focus of conflict. The families and tribes there have been in close contact for centuries with their relatives across the current border, which was drawn by Great Britain in colonial times ("Durand Line") and artificially separates the Pashtun settlement areas.

The tribal areas (Federally Administered Tribal Areas, FATA) belong to the Northwest Province (NWFP). Legally, they are part of Pakistan, but the constitution states: "No law passed by parliament applies in any of the tribal areas or any of their parts unless the president orders it" [3], which rarely happens. This lack of state law in the region on the Afghan border reflects the weakness of the state there. Governance within FATA is archaic. [4] It is based on the principle of autonomy of the individual tribes, which is managed by seven "political agents" of the President (political agents, PA) appointed by the Governor of the Northwest Province on his behalf. The PAs are the highest representatives of the state in the seven Tribal Agencies. However, they do not have direct government or administrative authority; their influence is based on the cooperation with the tribal leaders (maliks). They use the old carrot and stick technique to make that maliks to encourage cooperation; to do this, they grant financial or other incentives or threaten collective fines or the withholding of funds and other goods.

The political agents and maliks are interdependent: The power of maliks over their tribes depends on financial, political and other support from the PAs. They use them to build clientelist networks. At the same time needs a political agent the maliks, in order to be able to represent the interests of the government at all. This type of indirect government originated during the British colonial era and was established in the 1901 Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) codified. It still applies today, as no government has ever been able to take complete control of the tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan.

Such a model of government, if you want to call it that, largely excludes the local population from political participation. It has only been allowed to take part in elections since the mid-1990s. Before that, the members of parliament were appointed by the tribal leaders. Even the Pakistani parties are still illegal, although the president announced a reform to legalize them in 2009, which has yet to be implemented. There are no state courts in the FATA, tribes are collectively held liable for criminal activities of individuals. In addition, this anachronistic system of Governance only work as long as the tribes actually control their respective territories and the tribal structures (such as the dominant role of the malik) persist. However, these two requirements are often no longer met. In the Afghanistan war of the 1980s and early 1990s, the old tribal structures were undermined by at least two social groups that rose in power. This includes leaders of non-state armed groups. In wartime, traditional social structures are less important than military efficiency. Therefore, because of their military and organizational skills, many military leaders have become powerful local figures. Second, because of the increasing importance of religious motivation in anti-Soviet jihad, mullahs and other religious leaders gained greater influence. Originally, the mullahs were mainly part of a tribe and of secondary political importance, even the subject of jokes, but now they have often gained considerable political influence.

In addition, socio-economic trends contributed to a weakening of the tribal structures, such as the ongoing rural exodus. The jihadist transformation of local religiosity, which served to provide additional motivation and mobilization for the anti-Soviet struggle, as well as the creation of a paramilitary infrastructure contributed to the social restructuring. Both of these were not reversed after the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan and could later be used seamlessly in the fight against NATO troops in Afghanistan and against the Pakistani government, as well as being used for international jihadism by al-Qaeda. Overall, the tribal areas are only loosely integrated into the Pakistani state, while at the same time they have informal but close ties to the tribes on the other side of the Afghan border.

Effects of the war in Afghanistan

After the Taliban was overthrown by US troops and their Afghan allies in the autumn and winter of 2001, many of the - Pashtun - Taliban and up to 2,000 international al-Qaeda fighters fled Afghanistan to the tribal areas of the Pakistani northwestern province. [5] There they were usually welcomed in a friendly manner, since they had felt a bond with them since their time together in anti-Soviet jihad. At that time, family ties were also created through marriages, which favored a positive perception. Finally, there was also ideological sympathy, since the jihadist reshaping of Deobandic, Sunni Islam in the border areas since the war against the Soviet Union had resulted in a positive basic perception of religious fighters. Therefore - and due to financial payments by the foreign jihadists to the tribes or theirs maliks - The jihadists were not only accepted in the tribal areas, but were also able to use the region to prepare for raids and attacks in Afghanistan.

This resulted in a situation in which, in addition to the tribes and the religious leaders who had become more important, hundreds of Uzbek, Chechen and Arab fighters became political power factors in the tribal areas. Between these foreigners and the traditional tribal structures, local Pashtun groups of jihadist fighters also formed, who first called themselves mujahedeen (religious warriors), but soon after (Pakistani) Taliban. They gradually joined together and called each other Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP; "Movement of (Religious) Students of Pakistan"). On the one hand, these groups formed a bridge between local society and the foreign jihadists, but at the same time they undermined the power of the tribal tradition in some regions, which had already weakened in the past decades, as they only accepted the tribal leaders if they corresponded to their religious and political ideas. They soon began to set up quasi-state structures in certain areas that would take over the power of the maliks ideologically, but also through intimidation and violence. The already little influence of the Pakistani authorities in the region has also been pushed back even further.

The local jihadists began persecuting and executing criminals (such as robbers, rapists, etc.) in some regions, which is another indication of the undermining of the tribes, which were actually responsible for security. Your shuras (Leader councils) pressured men to grow beards and threatened business people who sold CDs, DVDs or videos, claiming that music and films undermine morality and are forbidden by Islam. If these instructions were not followed, they often blew up the relevant shops (even barbershops that shaved men's beards). Non-governmental organizations - especially those with foreign support or those promoting women - were threatened and in some cases attacked and driven out because their work was subversive, propagated western values ​​and was ultimately carried out on behalf of Washington.

At the same time, the residents of the FATA were not only under pressure from jihadist groups, but also from the authorities and the military. These often took entire villages or tribes under liability in order to get hold of individual suspects or extremist groups. If a tribe was unwilling or unable to hand over suspects or violent criminals to the government, its settlement area was cordoned off or collective sanctions were imposed.

Such ultimatums may work beyond their human rights questionability in cases in which local autonomy and tribal structures are intact and the extradition of individuals is involved. However, if the affected community is no longer able to act, for example because the authority of a tribal leadership is no longer generally accepted, individuals evade their transfer or the group to be extradited is large and well armed, then such threats of collective punishment can hardly achieve their goal and will be overridden Furthermore, it can damage the sympathy of the population for the authorities and the military - without which a counterinsurgency remains hopeless. When local civilians are harmed in punitive actions or other military operations, the government and military may be perceived as the worse of two evils. Then the military is de facto perceived as an occupying force in their own country and loses every realistic chance of driving a wedge between the population and the jihadists - and thus at the same time the prospect of a military victory.

The developments outlined were not limited to the tribal areas, even if they originated there and were particularly intense. Political violence spread even into bigger cities like after D.I. Khan and Peshawar. However, it did not reach the level of an open war there, but took the form of assassinations and acts of terrorism.

The Pakistani army has been conducting military operations against the jihadists in the tribal areas since 2002 - and increasingly since 2004, when up to 120,000 soldiers were deployed. These operations were only moderately successful up to 2009, also because the local population largely rejected the presence and use of force by soldiers in their autonomous region. The Pakistani army suffered heavy losses in some cases and reacted by escalating operations, which now also included massive air strikes. The resulting civilian casualties led to increased resistance from the affected tribes, which politically strengthened the foreign and especially local extremist fighters and encouraged their cooperation. In addition, there were isolated but politically often devastating attacks by US forces. The most important example in 2006 was a rocket attack on a madrasah in the village of Chingai (Bajaur Agency, Tribal Areas) by - very likely - US troops from Afghanistan, in which 82 people died, including many women and children. A few days later a retaliatory attack by a suicide bomber broke out, killing 40 Pakistani soldiers. In total, more than 1,000 soldiers and an unknown number of jihadist fighters and civilians were believed to have died in the fighting up to 2007. The military setbacks, the unease against parts of the own population and "devout Muslims", the feeling of actually using force on behalf of the USA and the victims among the civilian population also affect the morale of many soldiers. An example of this was an incident in August 2007 in which a small group of local Taliban captured around 250 soldiers who did not even defend themselves. [6]

At the same time, there were repeated attempts to resolve the conflicts in the tribal areas through talks, negotiations and agreements, with politicians from the JUI (who sympathized (ideologically, not necessarily politically) with the Taliban) (Jamiat-Ulema-i-Islam) and tribal gatherings (Jirgas) were used for mediation. Most of the time, the approach was to oblige the tribes to discipline local and international fighters themselves or to hand over terrorist perpetrators to the government or prevent them from attacking - in return the military should withdraw and the civil authorities should provide financial aid or carry out development projects. However, since the local balance of power no longer allowed this in some regions - the militant groups were already so strong that they could no longer be controlled by the tribes - in others the political will was lacking, direct negotiations and agreements between the authorities also took place local Taliban. In these cases, it evidently legitimized and strengthened this against the non-extremist forces. Local agreements collapsed because often neither the military nor the insurgents adhered to them. Negotiation processes with the local actors made sense in principle, but took place under circumstances that repeatedly made them fail. In some cases, major military operations were carried out during ongoing negotiations - for example, the Bajaur rocket massacre took place on the exact day a peace agreement was to be signed in the region. In such cases it is obvious that the military counterinsurgency failed to bring about a peaceful settlement of the conflict.

Since then, the military situation has come to a head.In the Swat Valley (outside of FATA), the Pakistani military crushed a brutal, quasi-state rule of local extremist insurgents with a hard hand in 2009, and in 2009/2010 it undertook major offensives against the core force of the TTP in South Waziristan, the southernmost of the seven Tribal areas. The latter was militarily lossy, but at least successful in the short term. Although the insurgents were able to evade north, they came under so much pressure that the wave of suicide and terrorist attacks in the Northwest Province and other parts of Pakistan in 2010 fell significantly. In this context, it was significant that in large parts of Pakistan the mood was now turning against the insurgents: had previously been viewed with great skepticism and criticism the army's war, as it was viewed as an aid to the USA and a fight by Pakistanis against others Condemned Pakistanis, the increasing terrorist attacks by the insurgent Taliban against Pakistani civilians and politicians led to a change in the climate.

The wars in Pakistan and the Pakistani Northwest Province

In Europe and the USA, the Pakistani tribal areas are viewed with great concern because, on the one hand, they make warfare in Afghanistan more difficult. The region, which can hardly be controlled, offers retreat and relaxation areas for Afghan insurgents, logistical support and, in some cases, recruitment opportunities. An effective isolation of the FATA from Afghanistan is hardly possible because of the close family and tribal ties across the border, for political, topographical and military reasons, so that militant extremists can repeatedly dodge in both directions if the pressure gets too great somewhere - to later to return. Second, the tribal areas also offer retreat, logistical and operational opportunities for the international jihadist fighters of al-Qaeda. Only about 100 al-Qaida fighters are currently believed to be operating in Afghanistan, while their number is likely to be much higher on the Pakistani side of the border - as long as they have not moved to other countries (such as Yemen or Somalia). In addition, there is the possibility for Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida to go into hiding in the often confusing large Pakistani cities such as Karachi or Quetta.

On the other hand, the tribal areas and the entire Northwest Province also form a transmission belt through which the violence in Afghanistan penetrates into Pakistan. In a sense, the war in Afghanistan and the civil war in the Pakistani Northwest Province form a unity: Many Pashtuns in Pakistan feel just as affected by the presence of US, British and other troops in Afghanistan as if they were in their own country. The non-Pashtun - even the secular - population of Pakistan largely rejects the war by foreign troops in Afghanistan - and accuses their own government and the military of taking violent action against parts of its own population on behalf of Washington. This was probably the most important reason why the first popular then President Musharraf in Pakistan lost practically all support and was ridiculed as "Busharraf". Even if this alienation from its own government is less pronounced today due to its support for US Afghanistan policy, it still represents a factor that undermines the legitimacy of the Pakistani state.

The situation of instability and violence in the tribal areas arises from two sources: On the one hand, the blatant weakness of statehood and the resulting political vacuum, which is reinforced by the aforementioned erosion of the tribal structures and filled by the religious extremists; and second, from the wars in neighboring Afghanistan since the late 1970s, which (a) politicized previously conservative Islam and transformed it into jihadist; (b) created a military infrastructure (weapons, logistics, armed gangs and extremist groups, etc.) that can be used by the insurgents and the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda and that offers them favorable operating conditions; (c) created and create a means of political mobilization against the foreign and "infidel" troops who are considered occupiers; and (d) resulted in the influx of extremist Afghan and foreign (Arab, Chechen, Uzbek) extremists who are well organized, heavily armed, ideologically adamant, and combat experienced. In addition, there is (e) the politically mobilizing situation that one's own government acts on the side of the hated USA against Pakistanis - whereby one's own military in the tribal areas is viewed as a de facto occupation force in the service of a foreign power.

In the course of the escalating fighting and fueled by the frequent "collateral damage" to the own population by the harshness of the Pakistani military and the US drone attacks, the violence spread from the tribal areas and the Northwest Province to other parts of the country and also took on terrorist forms. It is no coincidence that the first suicide attack by Pakistanis [7] did not occur until 2002, shortly after Washington overthrew the Afghan Taliban - and that the escalation of the suicide attacks only began in 2006 after a US drone hit numerous civilians killed. In addition, there were numerous attacks on key Pakistani politicians such as then President Musharraf, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistani military (including the well-secured Army High Command in Rawalpindi) and the civilian population.

In this way, the already deformed and sometimes weak statehood in Pakistan was further weakened and the legitimacy of the state was further undermined, since it was obviously unable to protect its citizens. The increasing cooperation of the insurgents operating from the tribal areas with Sunni extremists and jihadists from the Punjab (who saw their area of ​​operation primarily in the Indian part of Kashmir) also contributed to the growing insecurity.

The war in Afghanistan therefore not only leads to considerable human suffering, material destruction and political instability in Afghanistan itself, but also to the weakening of Pakistan, numerous victims of violence and growing instability. Today, more people in Pakistan are dying from political violence and the effects of war than in Afghanistan. Pakistan's contagion with political violence is not primarily due to the war in Afghanistan as such, but both historically and currently through the foreign role in this war, initially through the Soviet Union, the USA and some Arab states (especially Saudi Arabia) , today by the US and NATO allies.

The foreign troops represent the most important mobilization factor. A discussion of western politics in Afghanistan would be well advised to include this effect in the strategically much more important neighboring country. To accept a further destabilization of the fragile nuclear power Pakistan in order to get closer to the tactical goal of a barely possible closure of the border with Afghanistan would be a strategic mistake with unforeseeable consequences - which would ultimately have to hit back with all its might on the war in Afghanistan.

from: Pakistan and Afghanistan, From Politics and Contemporary History (APuZ 21-22 / 2010)